Michael's Story

When a critical illness knocked him down, faith, family and Select helped him get up

In February, Michael Byrd began experiencing shortness of breath and leg swelling. For three weeks, he waited to see if the symptoms would go away. Finally, his wife, Debra, drove him to the emergency room.

“They took me into triage and that’s the last thing I remember,” Michael said.

The 56-year-old’s heart stopped. Doctors performed CPR and diagnosed atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that can cause clotting. Serious complications followed, including gallstones, fluid on his liver and abdominal swelling. He was placed on a ventilator, airway support and feeding tube. His kidneys failed, requiring dialysis.

Weeks later, Michael stabilized. Debra and their two daughters could consider next steps. Michael said Debra could tell he wasn’t ready to quit. Doctors recommended Select Specialty Hospital – Knoxville for its experience liberating medically complex patients from ventilators.

A physician-led team that included nurses and therapists created a plan to bring Michael back to his family.

Shortly after arriving, Michael regained consciousness.

“I was able to ask a staff member to look in my chart and fill me in on what happened,” he said. “The nursing staff on this floor was fantastic. They would come in and check on me and throw their hands up and say ‘how’s it going?!’ It really helped me in my recovery.”

Feeling better, Michael let the team know he wanted to get home to his family and their menagerie of dogs and cats.

Respiratory therapists (RTs) evaluated his breathing and gradually reduced the ventilator settings, allowing his lungs to do more work.

RTs and physical therapy began a mobility program, helping Michael sit up in bed, at its edge and move into a chair. Studies show patients have a greater chance of liberating if a mobility program is begun early.

“There was a couple times I thought I wouldn’t meet my goals because it was so hard to move around. I felt defeated. But then I started fighting back, and kept pushing myself.  I went from 416 pounds to 285. I feel that the weight I lost helped me meet my goals because it made it easier for me to move.”

As Michael strengthened, he underwent additional physical therapy.

“They gave me rubber bands to help with exercises to strengthen my legs,” he said. “My wife brought my leg brace and together with PT, I went through the parallel bars first, then walked more independently. I’ve been working a lot on transferring from the bed to the chair, to the wheelchair. It’s practice for getting in and out of the car."

As Michael recovered, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the U.S. For safety reasons, hospitals ended in-person visitation. As a result, the hospital arranged regular video chats for Michael and Debra and she cheered his progress from afar.

The toughest part was being idle. Before falling ill, Michael worked full-time as a gas station fuel manager and made candlesticks in his home woodshop.

“God and my wife have helped me overcome that mental challenge through prayer and daily conversations,” he said.

After almost a month with us, Michael was ready to go home. He couldn’t wait to sit on the sofa and let the pups dogpile him, get back in the woodshop and continue therapy to build lung capacity.

“The nursing staff here at Select is one of the best I have ever seen at a hospital,” he said. They will and keep pushing you to get to the place you want to be. And with belief in God and the staff here, I did not die and I am getting ready to go home. Hallelujah and amen!”

By mid-summer, Michael had discontinued dialysis and no longer needed a heart catheter. He’s looking forward to returning to work soon.